“The end of Dial ‘M’?” or “Why run a musicology blog?”
It is not uncommon for academic blogs to occasionally go several weeks to a few months between postings. After all, unlike Perez Hilton, we have classes to teach and papers to grade. I blog when I feel compelled to write something and I’ve got the time to convert that impulse into prose. If that results in irregular or infrequent posts, so be it. I feel that it is better than prattling on about a bunch of stuff that I (let alone our readers) don’t ultimately care about. I find that the blogs I enjoy the most take a similar approach.
That’s why I hadn’t made much of the silence that’s been brewing over at the pioneering academic blog “Dial ‘M’ for Musicology,” which has posted nothing since the end of February. Again, a 2-3 month hiatus is not uncommon. I was excited when Google Reader informed me there was a new post, but saddened when I clicked through to read: Johnathan Bellman has run his final blog entry. I’ll leave it to you to read this eloquent-as-always final transmission wherein he offers his reasonable reasons for abandoning the medium. He is careful to point out that he is only speaking for himself and not for his co-blogger Phil Ford.
I would like to say THANK YOU to Professor Bellman for all his blogging efforts. His posts and Dial “M” as a whole not only stimulated much musicological discourse, it prompted many to take their own swing at the blogosphere, including myself.
The departure of one of the more prominent musicology bloggers prompts me to reflect on the nature of what we do as academic bloggers and why there aren’t more of us.
People tend to start blogging because they believe that they have something worth sharing with whatever community to which they imagine their words will appeal. In my case, it was finding a tooth in the archives. I continue to post because I feel that I address subjects and issues that our readers find interesting. I’d like to think that folks hang on my every word, but I know this is not the case. Sometimes a post will receive a lot of commentary, sometimes it passes almost completely unnoticed. Either way, as is the case with all musicology blogs, the medium provides an opportunity to circumvent the traditional means of scholarly distribution. Rather than present a conference paper and then publish my findings via an academic journal or book, my blog allows me to share my musicological musings freely and quickly with a broad community of readers.
Who is this community that we write for? Most musicology bloggers are recent PhDs or graduate students. Likewise, a majority of our readership comes from the same demographic. However, as a result of the public nature of our blog there are also many non-academics who read our posts, including those who stumble upon it as a result of a Google search (“zeldarian mode” brings us a lot of traffic). Although our readership numbers are strong, we don’t yet have the same reach as publications such as JAMS or American Music Review. At the same time, we’re read by a lot of people beyond musicology and beyond academia.
I believe that it this “open to anyone” feature of the musicological blog prevents more academic-types from sharing their work in such a venue. We’ve invited scholars from all points in their careers to submit pieces to Amusicology and so far only a handful of recent PhDs and graduate students have contributed.
I understand the reluctance to contribute to (let alone run) a musicology blog. One common concern is the unknown effect that blogging might have on one’s career. I can say that I posted my first Amusicology writings with great trepidation, immediately wondering if I’d said something that might damage my future standing in the field of musicology. While I’ve become increasingly less concerned with such matters as the years wear on, I do occasionally ask: Will my blog effect my chances of getting hired? Or, what will these posts mean for tenure when (knock on wood) I face that crossroads? Perhaps a whole lot. Perhaps very little. It remains yet to be seen if being a public musicologist is appealing or not.
Because it is unknown if academic blogging helps move one’s career forward, most chose to put their efforts towards those endeavors that traditionally have. Another question I ask: Am I wasting my time giving away my (scholarly) ideas in a non-peer-reviewed setting? I think not. Since I don’t blog frequently (and I rarely blog about my own scholarship specifically), I rarely feel like the time I spend writing for Amusicology is a waste. Even if it ultimately has no effect one way or the other on my career, it keeps me in the habit of writing. And it keeps me in the habit of communicating myself to a broader base of readers than I might in my more traditional academic style.
If Dial “M” does end up going by the wayside, I’m hesitant to say that it is a sign of things to come for the future of musicology blogs. The reality of blogs is that they come and go; they are just as easy to begin as they are to end. Still, the musicological blogging community is ever expanding. Although the process has been slow and several blogs and bloggers have opted out in the process, I can proudly say that the issues raised by those active within the musicological blogosphere are provocative and more closely attuned to the currents of the discipline than many of its printed counterparts. I do not intend this as a slight against such traditional venues, in which I am also an active participant. Rather, I hope that the concerns that prevent more musicologists from participating in the academic blogosphere–whether as bloggers, commenters, or readers–will subside, filling the silences between my postings with their own insightful observations.